edited by lain Chalmers and Douglas G. Altman, 119 pp, with illus, paper, £17, ISBN 0-7279-0904-5, London, England, BMJ Publishing Group, 1995.
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This book is a collection of papers presented at a meeting convened in 1993 to "discuss aspects of the science of reviewing clinical research." As such it suffers from the usual problems of published proceedings: a lack of cohesion combined with both inadequate coverage and redundancy. Most notably it offers virtually no theoretical foundation for the advocacy of systematic reviews. There is even a lack of clarity as to what is meant by the term.
"Systematic review" is preferred to "meta-analysis" because an overall summary statistic is not always attainable, but in many places in the text there is elision from the one term to the other. Meta-analysis, however, apparently remains the "gold standard." Yet hardly any distinction is made between the meta-analysis of controlled trials (for which the approach, conceptually, is of value) and of nonexperimental (observational) data (for which the approach is not valid at all).
Shapiro S. Systematic Reviews. JAMA. 1995;274(8):657-658. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530080073047